Arizona Cardinals have ‘high hopes’ for DL Zach Allen
The Arizona Cardinals went to work this offseason with the intent on revamping their defense.
The team went out and bolstered both their defensive line and linebacking corps through free agency, adding linebackers Devon Kennard, De’Vondre Campbell and defensive end Jordan Phillips. The Cardinals also used the 2020 NFL Draft to their advantage, using their No. 8 pick on Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
But while the talk of the town has been about the new defensive additions, second-year defensive lineman Zach Allen is figuring to make an impact along a crowded defensive line.
“We’re having high hopes,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph told reporters Thursday. “He got hurt last year and didn’t finish the season but he’s come back stronger and bigger and more focused. My hope for him is he wins a job and becomes a key member of our defense.”
Allen factors in as one of the team’s top options at the end spot, but will have some competition with Jonathan Bullard and Michael Dogbe looking for increased playing time. Rookies Rashard Lawrence and Leki Fotu are also in the fold.
Allen returns for Year 2 after playing in four games (one start) for the Cardinals. Over that span, the lineman recorded eight tackles, one of which was for a loss, and three QB hits.
Allen got an opportunity to see increased playing time after Darius Philon had off-the-field issues and Robert Nkemdiche underwhelmed, resulting in their departures from the organization.
Allen is hoping to build that four-game experience into a starting role.
“When you build your goals you’ve got to start there,” Allen said. “I definitely think that’s a big goal for me and I have some bigger goals after that. But for me, I’m just taking it day by day for now.”
Allen’s increased play and stature — the DL said he has put on 15 extra pounds of good weight in preparation for the season — helps a Cardinals defense looking to build off of the good and move past the bad of 2019.
Last season, the Cardinals ranked second-to-last in the league in yards (4,510) and touchdowns allowed (38) through the air. On the ground, Arizona allowed a ninth-worst 1,922 yards, but were top six in rushing touchdowns allowed (7).
There’s a different feeling in Cardinals camp, however, as the defense is already showing signs of solidifying.
“I think we’re doing a really good now with communication in the walkthroughs,” Allen said. “We’ve put in a lot of our defense already so I think guys have been picking up great and it’s a lot of fun and it’s a really tight group, and I think personally, this is a tighter group than last year which is good news for us.”
With the addition of the coronavirus pandemic in everyone’s lives, nothing is the same as it was just a year prior.
The virus has done plenty of damage to routines, but for Allen, he and his teammates have turned the disadvantage into something that can help the Cardinals as they move from practicing to live game reps.
“I think just being around, and I think when you go through tough times it brings people closer,” Allen said. “A lot of us were training in Arizona for the most part, at least on the D-Line, so we were able to keep on building that relationship.”
“I think we’ve got a really special group and … since Day 1, we’ve been able to hit the ground running,” Allen added. “It hasn’t been this big reboot. I’m just excited to help the team and find a role and I think I can do that.”